Making a video that keeps the viewer’s attention

I have certainly seen and made my share of boring educational videos, but there are ways that each of us can opt out of this process and make some that actually keep the viewer’s attention. Leila Meyer wrote an article For Campus Technology titled “5 Lecture Capture Hacks for More Engaging Videos” that nicely captures some of the ways that we might make better videos.

Search Techniques video

I have some experience with four of these approaches that I’d like to share:

  1. Dynamic green screen: An example of this is the YouTube video I have embedded at the top of this post. Since I have made about 50 of these for a class, it’s probably pretty clear that I like this approach: the slides are clear, my facial expressions are obvious, and it was easy for me to highlight items on the slides. I made these using a green screen setup in my basement plus Techsmith Camtasia video software for my Mac — not the easiest thing to create but, once it was setup, very easy to use.
  2. Virtual green screen: This uses the approach of the previous point but does not require an actual green screen setup — it is all handled with some specialized hardware and software. Check out Personify.
  3. Lightboard: I got to use one of these in a demonstration and it was simply outstanding. If you like to write on a board while explaining a topic, then this is the approach for you. It requires a studio and some specialized hardware, but once your school has set this up, it is extremely easy and natural to use. Highly recommended.
  4. Multi-perspective video capture: MediaSite has created an enterprise video solution that allows you to capture a lecture from a class. It requires a good audio capture for a classroom and, of course, a good video capture set up as well. It is relatively easy for the faculty to do but it doesn’t provide a specialized experience for the student — it feels just like sitting in a class (without having to be there). This is more of an enterprise solution to this situation.
  5. Interactive video: Both eduCanon (for an individual teacher) and Techsmith Relay (more of an enterprise solution approach) are tools that support the creation of interactive videos. It probably makes sense to experiment with the first, see how it works for you, and then (if enough people at your school support it and there is enough money in the budget) think about getting Relay.

A couple of options were also pointed out in the comments to the above article that I want to be sure to highlight:

  1. Office Mix: This add in for PowerPoint seems to be tailor made for educators to create interactive presentations for a flipped classroom. I don’t have any experience with this but it looks like it’s worth investigating.
  2. Zaption: Zaption also provides a tool for creating interactive video lessons. Be sure to check out their gallery of examples.

If you find yourself creating videos that simply show PowerPoint slides while your voice drones over them, and you think you can do better, you are right. Several of these examples are available for teachers to experiment with on his/her own, some with very little up-front cost. New tools are appearing all of the time so flexibility and a sense of experimentation are probably both key if someone is looking to making engaging videos this year…and next. This software is not going to stabilize for some time so just take the leap and start trying out some of these tools.

Assessment tools for a flipped or blended class

I am designing a class that I am going to teach next year. It is going to have elements of being flipped or simply blended. In any case, I am looking into different ways in which I can assess student learning that goes on during semester, whether in the classroom or out.

Several tools are available that provide assessment for different types of situations:

  • TED Ed is appropriate for assessing a student’s comprehension of a specific video that the student has watched outside of class. It explicitly recognized that many of the questions that you might raise will not be computer graded.
  • Flubaroo is a tool that is well-integrated with Google Docs; it would be easy to administer a test using this tool at a school that uses Google Apps for Education.
  • QuizStar is appropriate for any sort of out-of-class testing in which the questions need to include more than text; it also provides a good tool for tracking and managing grades.
  • Quipper is for a situation in which the teacher is not interested in tracking student grades but is more interested in motivating the students to learn a topic.

Below I provide more details on each of these and links to useful resources.


TED Ed allows a teacher to create an online quiz around any video that is on YouTube. You can create a Quick Quiz that tests basic factual and content questions based on the video. You can also define Think short answer questions for students. Finally, you can define a set of readings and resources in the Dig Deeper section.


Flubaroo is a free tool, integrated with Google Forms. You write a quiz in Google Forms, and this extracts the information from the form, emails the results back to the students, and stores the results for the teacher to see. It has a tremendous user guide that really lays out what needs to be done.

The questions in the quiz can be either multiple choice, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank. The program generates an Excel worksheet that contains individual results and summary reports and graphs. It also has an option that enables it to email students their grades (plus individual question results).


QuizStar is a free tool that helps teachers create online quizzes, administer them to students, automatically grade those quizzes, and shows the results online. Each question can have graphics and videos attached to them as necessary


Quipper allows a professor to create a quiz that can be taken on most smartphones. The creator of the quiz is not able to get any information about how people perform on the quiz or on specific questions. The image at left (click on it to see a larger version) shows the question creation form. As you can see, it’s fairly straight-forward, allowing just multiple choice questions (or, of course, true/false).

  • Help page: this contains a lot of information about creating quizzes.
  • This app is currently available on both the iOS and Android platforms.

How to tell stories digitally (ISTE12 workshop)

Jason giving it his all in our workshop.


The following are my notes and take-aways from the ISTE12 workshop given by Jason Ohler titled “Finding the Digital Storyteller Within.” He did a great job, and I highly recommend to anyone interested in digital stories (more on this below) that they attend one of his workshops (the longer, the better). In the meantime, he has a blog, a book about Digital Storytelling, his slides for the session, and a real extensive Web site.

Here is what he stated in his introductory Web page about the workshop:

I am all about story development, planning and execution. We just happened to be using digital technology to do it.

Think “new media narrative” rather than stories
I think the word “story” erroneously implies fiction, language arts, Walt Disney. Not the case. That is why I prefer the term “new media narrative.” I will show examples of “math stories,” documentaries created in social studies, and other kinds of new media projects that attest to the fact that new media narrative is a powerful alternative to essays and reports.

And, so, that is what we did, and this is what I learned.

Key take-aways

The following are key points that he discussed during our session. I have tried to include links to his Web site for supporting details. I can’t emphasize enough how useful these are.

Scripting a story
He takes us through two processes for creating a digital story. He also took us through the story core and story mapping process. His Green screen storytelling project provided a good example to get a better idea of what he was talking about. We all found these tools to be simply great for evaluating whether a story is good and also to create a good story ourselves.
Assessment rubric
He also provided a ton of details about assessment. His basic story was to be clear that you’re not just going to be blown away by moving pictures on a screen — you’re going to grade them on the underlying narrative (see above) and lots of other things. This is the only way that they will get better!
He made this point over and over again: it’s the underlying story/narrative that is most important. The visuals and videos that accompany the narrative are supportive.
Words first
When creating a digital story, the student should create the story and narrative first; once this is done, then they should focus on the images. This is the opposite of what is usually done.

Software and sites

Jason barely mentioned the technology, other than little hints for us. Here are some of the sites that he mentioned:

  • Use for free music. This is better than GarageBand but it costs a little money.
  • For music he also uses
  • For photos he likes
  • He uses Perfect Resize (formerly Genuine Fractals), an add-on to Photoshop ($100 right now) that can be used to up-size a photograph. This allows him to use a 300×500 photo that he might have gotten from a site for free, and then use this software to make it useful at full-screen size.
  • He subscribes to for photos and (what else) clip art. He always prefers that students take the photos themselves, but he realizes there are limitations to what they have time to do.

And that’s it. He did a great job of giving us an overall framework for how to create compelling stories and how to evaluate the digital stories that students create. I will be using all of this myself as I create videos during the upcoming year for my blended class.

Detailed notes

Here are my notes from the class. I’m not sure that anyone would find this useful, but I’m keeping it here just in case.

  1. He is going to give us guidelines for creating digital stories. He will give us a skeleton and we will change it based on our audience. This will be a starting point.
  2. Digital storytelling in the classroom; Digital community, Digital Citizen — both books by Jason Ohler
  3. He has a blog:
  4. His presentation is New Media Crash Course presentation on his web site. (Link later.)
  5. This is about structuring stories.
  6. Teachers as “door openers” for the students. Which door is for which student?
  7. Watched a video produced by a kid. It was really good, but the production values were terrible. But the story was awesome. (About his bunny, Fuzzy Lumpkins the Sith Lord.)
  8. Most media that he sees is not very good. The coherent narrative is not very good. It’s hard to go from reading to writing, and it’s hard to go from watching media to creating media.
  9. We are afraid to give strong, critical, useful feedback on student media work.
  10. Worst infraction by students is that the music is too loud. Don’t ever give up Executive Producer role for students.
  11. Tell students to watch TV and see how they do transitions. Do they use checkerboards? No, I didn’t think so.
  12. Key resources:
    • Green screen storytelling project:
      1. plan, permissions, paint.
      2. Tell the story
      3. Map the story
      4. Teach storytelling (Who’s line is it anyway?)
      5. Do the unit of instruction
      6. Storystorming
      7. Students tell their stories; get kids to move with their stories, there’s something kinesthetic about creating a written story.
      8. Students write their stories (notice that this is the end)
      9. Students tell, retell and peer critique stories
      10. Students create background artwork
      11. Students scan artwork
      12. Students perform in front of the green wall. (Get students to teach each other.)
      13. Students record their performance
      14. Students create background music for titles.
      15. Students are trained in chroma editing
      16. Students add artwork
      17. Students edit, master and help each other
    • Digital storytelling site: a great section on Assessment for digital stories and new media narrative projects. Also information on copyright and fair use. Here is where to start.
    • music impact
    • Use for free music. This is better than GarageBand but it costs a little money.
    • Story proof? by Havens (he loves it)
    • There is a grammar associated with camera work. Ask him how to learn about this!!!
    •, also
    • Genuine Fractals, add-on to photoshop that can be used to up-size a photograph
    • He subscribes to for photos
  13. Become aware of the music you hear when you’re watching media. NBC uses lots of music; it’s a cheap way to pull at the heart instead of with good writing.
  14. Music is the adjectives and adverbs of your story.
  15. Literacy: therefore, we need to be able to write well whatever we read. We need to say that creating this media is now just as important as being able to watch the media (e.g., read text).
  16. Homework can be a media collage now. How can we do this well?
  17. Digital storytelling is cliche. It should be “new media narrative.”
  18. He thinks it’s hard to look at a storyboard and tell if the story is going to be good or not.
  19. He tells a story about a little girl helping a CIO in front of a big audience.
  20. Stories are highly efficient information containers.
  21. Stories have to have “personal transformation” in a story or it isn’t memorable. There needs to be something to hang your emotional hat on. There has to be a problem, question, inquiry, goal — something that makes you lean forward in your chair. The discovery has to be complete. No “stay tuned next week.”
  22. Think about a “story” versus “bullet list.” Think about how memorable the two are.
  23. He shows a video, a math story called “ball”. How to animate a rolling ball. They presented a problem (of the ball skidding across the sand). What are they going to do about that? Note that didn’t have to have the problem! They gave us a problem that drew us into the video.
  24. Traditionally storyboard. He doesn’t use that.
  25. Visual portrait of the story: beginning, problem (tension) -> solution (resolution) [this is the transformation], end.
  26. Transformation: emergence, rebalancing. From new you to the old you. Physical/kinesthetic, inner strength, emotional, moral, psychological, social, intellectual/creative (learning, problem solving, critical thinking, realizing new understandings, spiritual. The key is that characters have to realize something or there isn’t a good story involved.
  27. Use the photos that I took here. He includes a bunch of Maps; includes the work of McKee.
  28. McKee says you need to move toward goal, away from goal, toward the goal, away from the goal. Do this alot, it draws us in.
  29. Story spine by Kenn Adams. Great summary.
  30. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  31. Simple rubric: story (flow), media use (alignment), research (well done), narrative production (bumpless), writing (meets your standards), planning (process followed), voice/creativity (present). The media has to fit the narrative; does the picture show a dog? For media alignment, you need to give structured feedback about specific moments in a video.
  32. Story creation process: plan, write (write 1/2 to 1 page; keep it under 3 minutes for student work; but if this is a final project for semester, could be longer), put (writing into a two column table), describe media, speak/record, get media. This is huge! Use this in a class. The peer pitch is your elevator pitch; is it clear, interesting, problem clear, solution clear.
  33. A two column table: narrative on left, image description and emotion description on right.
  34. Have the student record/listen/rewrite. They will do this a lot because they don’t like how it sounds.
  35. Be sure to have them do just audio first. Go back and do the images later.
  36. Get media later.
  37. Now it’s technical: create the title page; add pictures and video; add citations, music, transitions and effects; export to something youtube can understand; perform it publicly (makes a big difference to students).
  38. He has a media development checklist (photo).
  39. Story storming: a process to elicit a story from them. Problem/question? Then Solution/answer. Then Learning/transformation. Get them to tell me a problem; wait until you get a juicy one (“don’t like school”). What are the solutions or answers to that? Write down several different choices. Look for learning/transformation associated with each. Some don’t have one here, so that’s not a good story. The good ones have a lot to do in this area.
  40. Documentary options: 3rd person narrator; 1st person protagonist (I don’t understand whatever, come with me as I discover; Michael Moore); 1st person included (he gives the 3rd person, but he includes personal stories; Ken Burns); 1st immersive (media created through the viewpoint of being that person, from that person’s eyes; King John story)
  41. He has us come up with a story ourselves.

Using a flipped classroom to teach a technology class

Flipping the Classroom, a recent post at Tech&Learning, excerpts a tiny portion of the book Flip Your Classroom by Jorgmann and Sams. In this excerpt Bergmann and Sams present several reasons for using this method. Before coming upon this list, I had basically decided to use this approach for the class I am developing here at Ross.

Here are the reasons that spoke most strongly to me along with my reaction to them:

Flipping helped busy students
As far as I can tell, no one is busier than the students in my classes. They have group projects in 4-5 classes, they have homework in those classes, they have clubs & sports teams & fraternities & sororities… Oh yeah, and class to go to. Having much of the material for the class online (lectures, exercises, assignments) provides an added bit of flexibility for the students (and for me, if I’m going to be truthful about it).
Flipping helps students of all abilities to excel
Students coming into any technology-related class that I teach always seem to have a huge variety of backgrounds and related skill. Some students barely need my lecture, some think they don’t need my lecture but realize later that they do (this is the group that I’m most excited about potentially reaching), and a final group knows that they need my lecture but need to listen to different parts of it at different speeds.
Flipping increases student-teacher interaction
I always enjoy working with students who want to learn. It’s easily the best part of my job. Anything that potentially increases the amount and/or quality of this part of my life is a good thing. I’m not looking to get out of having class, but I am looking to stop students from feeling like they have to come to class if they don’t want to. I have always thought of class time as the limiting resource when designing a class. I know that I only have X amount of hours for a class; the major question is “how should I spend this highly valuable time?” Well, if I can allocate more of it to working directly with students who have chosen to come to class so that they can work with me on a problem personally important to them — I can’t ask for more than that.
Flipping changes classroom management
As I have written about before, I have quite a history working with flipped-like classes so I have seen this in action. Classes run this way are so exciting, so energetic. Students get engaged with the material, with each other, and periodically with me. It is exhausting and invigorating to be a part of. I definitely did have to roam the class to periodically remind students to get back on task — they are kids, after all — but it’s nothing like having to wake the kids up who are sleeping during a lecture because of boredom.
Flipping makes your class transparent
I am very much looking forward to letting the public (parents, other professors, other students, legislators, executives) in on the exciting things we are doing in class. Just like when we published the blog for a class I taught last semester, it got the student’s attention and gave them a sense that what we were doing was “real.” It would also be great if the videos ended up getting comments and feedback from beyond our classroom walls. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

Do you have any words of warning or encouragement for me? Am I being too naive about this? What do you think?

Many small steps from lecturing to flipping

I have spent much of my career transitioning from a standard lecture format to letting the students lead the way. Let’s go over some of the steps:

  1. Many years ago I taught our core introduction to business information technology class with standard PowerPoint lectures. When we would be in the lab, I started out lecturing, demonstrating, and having them follow along. Fortunately, I noticed that they didn’t follow along! Some were faster, some were slower, some didn’t care. It definitely didn’t work, but it did show me that I needed to think about structuring the class in a different way.
  2. At the same time I was working with another professor teaching the introduction to database elective class. In this class we would lecture for a short time (maybe 5 minutes), and then students would work on a problem among themselves. We would wander around the class for 3-4 minutes while they worked on the problem, and then we would reconvene as a group and discuss their answers and questions. When we were in the lab, we had semi-structured exercises that basically guided their exploration of the software. I wrote a whole manual based on the principles espoused in The Nurnberg Funnel. This really helped guide my thinking so that I would let the student take the lead and use his/her initiative. This also led me to design exercises that required students to take ownership of the learning process.
  3. Several years later when I taught my class on “Web-based resources,” I structured the class in ways that maximized the personal meaning of the material to the students. I gave a short overview lecture (10-15 minutes) at the beginning of a class (with all of my notes posted before the class on the class wiki), and then students would spend the rest of the class working on guided exercises and then applying these skills and concepts to their own term project. During the whole class period, I acted as a resource, answering questions and providing hints when they had reached some type of impasse.

I currently teach a quite traditional, though not often practiced at Michigan with our undergraduates, case-based class in which we discuss two different cases during a three-hour face-to-face class with 52 students. For each class, they generally read two cases (5-15 pages each), and usually one more theoretical concept-based journal paper. Our classes are spent as two long discussions, with them talking 90% of the time (to the class), and we taking notes on the board and structuring the discussion. Periodically, as part of the discussion, I do a very short (1-2 minute) lecture on a specific topic from the case that I want them to take note of.

Now technology enters the picture. I can easily see something like ShowMe, ReplayNote, or Camtasia being used to teach these topics before class, and before they read the cases so that they can think about how to apply the ideas themselves. This would, I think, allow the conversation to get to a higher level than it currently does.

I will be experimenting with these tools over the next few months and will report on my findings here. I would appreciate any pointers that my readers can give me that might make my experiments more useful.